|A Human Perspective - Episode 4|
|Series||A Human Perspective|
|Source||A Human Perspective - Episode 4|
|In the series|
Sealing the Reacher’s airlock and leaving his ship behind at the Bacchus orbital was one of the hardest things Charl had done in awhile. Sure, it was just a material thing, he realized, but that ship had been his constant companion — indeed his sole companion — for several standards. He remembered one time considering having an artificial personality glommed onto the Reacher’s computer system (they were all the rage in UEE space, he understood), but he’d decided against it. The Reacher had a personality all its own, and he was going to miss it.
Besides, a Human personality would have annoyed him, artificial or otherwise.
They had given him just two hours to gather his things and report to a Banu yacht in its own mooring at the far end of the orbital’s docking ring. Lyshtuu apologized as best he could, for an alien who neither understood why Charl was upset in the first place nor the whole concept of an ‘apology’ either, for that matter.
“It’s not your fault,” Charl had tried to reassure him over the vid link.
“Charl-Grissom, not meaning breach acquaintance in any way,” the Banu tried to explain, but it was clear the alien was baffled. Charl eased it over and was sure he left Lyshtuu confident that he would perform the mission well and be glad to work with him again. Banu hate to disappoint.
Porters startled him as he exited the Reacher. Who sends real live porters for luggage anymore? If he’d known they were coming he might have packed a few more things. They grabbed up his couple of ragged duffels and lead him on their way to the more exclusive part of the spaceport where their yacht, the Shuulyear, waited behind velvet ropes.
Torreele Foodstuffs was spending some major money on this thing, Charl thought. Porters? A yacht? What did this Hwasheen thing taste like, anyway? Ambrosia?
They stowed his gear in a stateroom that was way nicer than he needed and left him to his own devices. They had even adjusted the temperature and lighting to more Human norms. The yacht’s head steward — it had several stewards — let him know they would depart for the first jump point in less than an hour. Like most passenger ships, he would get a two-minute warning as they approached each jump point along the way, so he could prepare for hyperspace travel’s mild discomfort.
All things being equal, Charl would have stretched himself out on the stateroom’s big bed, ordered room service and relaxed. But things were not equal. As he came onboard the yacht he had seen that the stateroom just across the corridor was already occupied. She was here. Despite himself, his heart beat a bit quicker.
Charl hit the comm button and the steward’s face appeared on the screen.
“Are there any other staterooms available on this thing?” he asked.
“Is something unpleasing for you?”
“No … no, this stateroom is fine. Is there any alcohol on this boat? Or can you synthesize some?”
“We can synthesize anything …”
“Whiskey, then. Rye, if possible.”
Charl settled into his stateroom as best he could. He flipped through the hundreds of vid entertainment channels — all Banu, which he normally enjoyed — but couldn’t settle on any of them, so switched to soothing ocean sounds for awhile until he lost interest and switched it off. He drank what the steward delivered sparingly, just enough to keep from thinking too much, but not enough to get really inebriated. It tasted pretty foul, anyway. He even busied himself hanging his wrinkled clothes in the closet and arranged his personal items in the ‘wet’ room (another Banu oddity).
And he ignored the ‘message waiting’ icon swirling on his comm link. It was her, he knew it without even looking. He took a swig of his drink, hoping to at least dampen his anxiety if not completely drown it. It’s just a woman, Charl, he admonished himself.
Two hours passed before he heard a gentle knock. He took a fortifying drink and then opened the door.
“Oh, hello,” Angela said, turning back from her own stateroom door. “I thought you weren’t going to answer.”
“Hello,” he responded awkwardly.
“I thought we should discuss the mission while we have the time.” He had forgotten what a woman’s voice even sounded like. He had to admit, she really was lovely, too, not that that should even matter. He caught himself straightening.
“Well, we’ll get to the planet in, what, 12 hours or so. We can probably catch up during planetfall.” It hadn’t even occurred to him that they might discuss the particulars. That’s how long he had been working alone. If Angela picked up on his uncertainty, she made no obvious reaction other than to stare somewhat blankly. Was she pouting a little, or did she always hold her mouth that way? Charl couldn’t tell. But when she didn’t respond for a moment he figured he hadn’t made himself clear.
“Yes, we should discuss things,” he clarified, and her smile lit up the dim corridor.
“Can we meet in the lounge later for dinner?” she asked
“Well, let’s just meet in the lounge,” he answered.
“In an hour?”
“An hour’s fine,” he said and slid the stateroom door closed, then took a deep breath. He downed the rest of his drink to slow his pounding heart. Alarm bells went off in his head. Don’t let your biology get the better of you, Charl. Intellectually, he told himself they were just meeting to talk about the job, and rationalized a quick bath, shave and selection of his nicest shirt as just good manners.
Angela had changed her clothes, too, Charl noticed, to a peach blouse and dark slacks. Of course, they were alone in the yacht’s lounge, since they were the only passengers, placed at an all-too-tiny table. The Banu stewards were well versed in Human accommodation, bringing water, even providing silverware, but it appeared they hadn’t gotten the word that this wasn’t a ‘dinner.’
“Thanks for seeing me,” Angela began, putting a napkin in her lap. “I was beginning to think you were ignoring me.”
“Well,” he fidgeted slightly, “don’t take it personally. I’ve been out in space for a long time.”
“They warned me that you prefer to work alone. I hope I’m not an inconvenience for you.”
“Not at all.” Their salads arrived, mixed alien greens, some bitter, some sour, but certainly edible. Charl picked at his for a few minutes as the stewards passed to and fro.
“I have a preliminary readout on the hwasheen’s blood chemistry,” Angela began again, and Charl was glad to continue the professional portion of the evening. “It’s not dissimilar from several other livestock animals, like the brundeen and the gisbut.”
“What’s a gisbut?” he asked.
“How long have you been away from UEE space?” she asked amusedly, and despite himself, he found her good humor infectious.
“Quite a while, apparently,” he admitted, and Angela sipped her water. “Where are you from?”
“How long have you been with Torreele Foodstuffs?”
“I started with them right out of university. I interned there.” He did the math. She looked to be mid to late 20s, so that meant she’d been with them at least five years or more.
“So you were part of the big Boventine roll out. I helped Torreele out on that one,” he mentioned, hoping to impress her, but she wrinkled her brow and shook her head slightly.
“No, I wasn’t part of that merger,” she said tentatively, to which Charl chuckled a bit.
“Boventine’s a product, not a company,” he corrected.
“Oh, yes, of course,” she said, snatching up a menu. “Have you decided on something?”
“No,” he said, opening one for himself, “I wasn’t really planning on eating anything, but I guess I’m hungrier than I thought. You’ve barely touched your salad,” he pointed out.
“It’s sort of strange, don’t you think?”
“Good for Banu cuisine, if you ask me.” They both ordered and shared some minor chitchat. Safe topics only: the differences between Banu and Humans, inconveniences of space travel, and so on. Charl devoured his meal, but he saw that Angela just nibbled at hers. Was he making her nervous, he wondered?
“So, have you actually seen one of these hwasheen up close?” Charl eventually asked, glad to have another whiskey in hand, courtesy of the steward.
“No, I haven’t,” she answered simply.
“I just thought they might have put one in a zoo or brought one around to your lab.”
“No, nothing like that.” She got that blank expression again, like she was lost in thought. “They only brought us a blood sample,” she continued finally, and another awkward pause followed. Charl got the definite impression she was nervous or socially awkward or a little of both. It had been so long since he’d been with a woman it was hard for him to tell, but the notion put him a bit at ease.
“Well, I think we’ll learn a lot more when we get to the planet.”
“I really should get back to my stateroom,” she injected suddenly. “I’m tired.”
“Oh, of course, I understand.” Charl stood as she got up to leave — he remembered that much, anyway — surprised, since he fully expected he would have been the one to cut their conversation short. “Please, have a good evening.”
“Yes, thank you. Have a good evening, too.” He watched her leave the galley and then remained for a while to finish his drink as the handful of Banu stewards cleared their table. Strange girl.
To Be Continued …